Recent decisions by the state regarding the Alaska Marine Highway need to be re-examined. If adding the fast ferry Fairweather to the system results in the sidelining of the Taku and loss of mainline ferry service in the upper Lynn Canal, along with the loss of regular ferry service between Haines and Skagway, we are shooting ourselves in the foot.
A ferry ride in the upper Lynn Canal is not merely a way to get from point A to point B; it is an experience valued by residents and attractive to visitors. On a mainline ferry one can enjoy a relaxing meal, be out in the fresh air and sunshine, have a leisurely visit with other passengers, read a book, catch up on paperwork or correspondence, play music, dance, and view some of the world's finest scenery and spectacular wildlife from open decks over an open rail. On the fast ferry, people will be closed in and barely able to see out small windows covered with sea spray. There will be no chance to watch whales, but there will be an increased chance of running into one. Or a log. Or a rock. The fast ferry experience will be bumpy and noisy with people being more likely to become seasick, particularly in rough weather.
There could also be serious economic impacts with a plan to phase out the mainline ferries and offer only fast ferry options. We may saving operation costs by reducing the number of employees needed, but we will be spending more on fuel. Wouldn't it make better economic and political sense to have more people employed and less dependence on fossil fuels? How much revenue will be lost to businesses in Southeast Alaska when people choose not to travel or visit because the quality of the experience has been diminished?
The fast ferry may well be the best solution for a run to Sitka or an occasional run elsewhere where the speed factor might be attractive to some. In the long run, however, we need a well thought-out plan involving both mainline and fast ferries.
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